Archive for December, 2010

Belgian Representatives Demands the Release of the Cuban Five

December 30, 2010

(acn) Belgian deputies and senators wrote a letter to the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi and other congressmen and political personalities of that nation to demand the release of five Cuban antiterrorists unjustly imprisoned in the US,reports website The letter notes that in October 13, 2010, International Amnesty expressed its concern on the impartiality of the evidence presented during the trial of Rene Gonzalez, Gerardo Hernandez, Ramon Labañino, Antonio Guerrero and Fernando Gonzalez, held in Miami. The document is a request to take the case of these men ––internationally known as the Cuban Five–– to the House of Representatives and to encourage President Barack Obama to use properly its constitutional prerogatives for the sake of justice. This initiative came up as the result of meetings among Belgian legislators and Olga Salanueva and Adriana Perez, wives of Rene Gonzalez and Gerardo Hernandez, respectively, last October. Several activities have taken place in Belgium as part of the international solidarity campaign with the Cuban Five, imprisoned since 1998 for trying to prevent terrorist actions against Cuba. A concert was held last September in front of the Palace of Justice,in Brussels, in order to honor Rene, Gerardo, Ramon, Antonio and Fernando,with the participation of well-known artists. In addition, ten political, trade union, and cultural figures decided to shut themselves, symbolically, for five hours under the slogan “They are as innocent as we are”. The Belgium people also organized gatherings in front of the US-embassy to demand the release of the Cuban Five through several messages signed by prominent figures and social organizations.

Miami Herald’s gross distortion of Gerardo’s appeal and its implications

December 30, 2010 – By Karen Wald 
The Miami Herald and related media are putting out a seriously misleading story in relation to Gerardo Hernandez’ new appeal: A banner headline Dec. 26 read:
“In about-face, Cuban spy says planes were shot down over international waters”
Since many people will be shocked and confused by this assertion, even if they know quite well how the Miami Herald functions and are able to discount both the repeated use of the terms “spy” and “spymaster” and the MH spin on what this means (its repeated assertions that this puts Gerardo at odds with the Cuban government on this matter), it is important to set the record straight.
The spin that the MH is putting on the new appeal for Gerardo, in which his defense attorneys say that Paul McKenna, his court appointed attorney in the original trial of the Five, did not provide an adequate defense for Hernandez, is that by acknowledging testimony claiming the planes were over international water when they were shot down means that Gerardo is now disavowing a major contention of his government regarding the historic shooting down of planes that had been routinely trespassing over Cuban airspace.
That, they go on, means a break between Gerardo Hernandez and the Cuban government.
Nothing could be farther from the truth, but to understand the essence of his appeal requires a review of some of the very lengthy history of this case.
Three of the five defendants tried for acting as undeclared agents of a foreign government and conspiracy to commit espionage (they couldn’t be charged with espionage itself because none had access to classified information) were given life sentences.  Gerardo was given a double life sentence because the jury bought hook, line and sinker the prosecution’s contention that he was also guilty of murder conspiracy in the 1996 shooting down of 2 of the planes led by Jose Basulto — a well-known anti-Castro terrorist —  that had blatantly and illegally flown into Cuban airspace in 1996.
The MH emphasizes the part of the appeal that says, in effect, McKenna did not do a good job defending Hernandez because he over-emphasized the question of whether or not the planes were inside Cuban airspace (within 12 miles from Cuban shoreline) when they were hit by Cuban missiles. This aspect of the appeal criticizes that part of the defense strategy because it overshadowed the more important fact that Hernandez  did not know in advance about his country’s plans to finally put an end to those illegal and dangerous overflights, and because (though not mentioned by MH) the defense attorney did not object when Judge Lenard surprising changed the jury instructions by telling them the question of where the planes were was not at issue and that they did not need to decide that question to find Gerardo guilty of First Degree Murder. (More on this essential point later).
The MH acknowledges that evidence of Gerardo’s advance knowledge of the planned shootdown was crucial to proving his role in the murder conspiracy. They don’t acknowledge  that not only did the prosecution fail to present any evidence that Gerardo knew of these plans — in fact, the prosecutors asked the judge to dismiss that specific count of first degree murder against Gerardo (reduce it to second degree-  see explanation of charges and instructions below) because they did not have any evidence that Gerardo knew of those plans, as required for a first degree conviction, and were afraid that their inability to prove this would make the jury find him not guilty on that charge.
To her shame, Judge Lenard refused the prosecution’s request to reduce this charge, saying that it should be left to the jury to decide.
The prosecution then asked the appeals court for a “writ of prohibition” to get the murder charge reduced to second degree, explaining that “in light of the evidence presented in this trial, this [the instructions to the jury] presents an insurmountable hurdle for the United States in this case, and will likely, result in the failure of the prosecution on this count.” (Emergency Petition for Writ of Prohibition, May 30, 2001, pages 4 and 21).
The Appeals court also refused to allow the change, and the final instructions to the jury included the first degree murder-conspiracy accusation against Gerardo Hernandez that the prosecution had already admitted it couldn’t prove. But while she kept the seemingly improvable first degree murder charge in place, Judge Lenard changed the jury instructions in a different way to give the prosecution a better chance at conviction: she told them that if they believed the testimony that the planes were in international waters when shot down –although contradictory evidence on this point had been presented by the two sides — one of the requirements for finding the defendant guilty of first degree murder would have been established (see notes in appendix below)
Gerardo’s  attorney did not object to this vital change; he had focused more heavily on the location of the planes than on the overriding fact that Gerardo had no prior knowledge of the plans to shoot the planes down and there was absolutely no testimony to indicate that he did.  Gerardo is now serving two consecutive life sentences plus 15 years because of a first degree murder charge that even the prosecutors knew was not backed up by any evidence. 
The jury, as we now know, heavily influenced by prior anti-Cuban hostility and the pressures coming from the Miami rightwing Cubans and media (including, above all, the Miami Herald) went into the jury room at the end of the trial determined to convict all five “Castro agents” on all counts, no matter what the evidence and testimony showed.
Whatever the Cuban government alleged –including the location of the planes when shot down — was simply disregarded by them. But if the focus had been on the lack of evidence that Gerardo had any way to know of those plans, the outcome might have been different.
On appeal, the 3-judge Federal Circuit Court panel initially ruled the case should be retried due to the many errors committed during the trial — above all Judge Lenard’s refusal to move the trial out of Miami where there was no chance of five men who admittedly were working secretly for the Cuban government getting a fair trial. But in a highly unusual politically-motivated move, the prosecution asked for the case to be reheard by the entire 11-judge appeals court panel, and for those same political reasons, that court overturned the initial panel’s very thoroughly documented decision.
It is notable, however, that Appeals Court Justice Kravitch, in her dissenting vote, several times mentioned the point now being raised by Gerardo’s appeals attorneys:  “the Government failed to provide sufficient evidence that Hernández knew something about an agreement to shoot down the planes at all, in international airspace or an any other place.” 
This reinforces the current defense position that it was a serious mistake on McKenna’s part to over-emphasize the question of where the planes were shot down, and the Cuban government’s right to do so, instead of focusing on the key issue: that Gerardo in any case was not part of that decision and knew nothing about it — and then not objecting when the Judge undermined that entire line of defense in her instructions to the jury.
It is also important to recall some of the other undeniable facts in this matter:
**Whether or not the planes that were hit by the MiG missiles had reached international air space at the point of impact, there has never been any doubt that the planes led by Jose Basulto (a sworn enemy of Cuba who had carried out violent attacks against the island) on that date had flown into Cuban airspace, had been warned by radio that they were in a military defense zone and that Basulto had replied that he didn´t care because as a ¨free Cuban¨ he would go where he wanted;
**there is also no dispute that his planes –US military Cessna’s formerly used in the Vietnam war, and obtained for his group by Ileana Ros-Lehtinen — had previously carried out flights over Havana during which they dropped anti-government leaflets — and could have dropped anything else, including cluster bombs, grenades, etc because no one inspected their planes before they departed on their illegal flights;
**that the planes were in violation of US as well as Cuban law because they filed false flight plans and could have easily caused an air hazard with other, commercial, flights since they were lying “blind” as far as air control was concerned; and that there was never any evidence presented showing that Gerardo had any information that if Basulto’s planes entered Cuban airspace that day they would be shot down.
All of the above is factual.
None of that is contradicted by any US or international authority.
So whether or not the planes shot down had returned to international air space by the time the missiles hit them, they had been in clear violation of Cuban, US and international law — and in this day and age, the US would have done exactly the same thing.
How many Americans wish the US had done exactly that on Sept 11, 2001 before those first planes hit the twin towers?
Instructions to the Jury (June 4 , 2001) Fragment referred to Gerardo
Count 3 charges that defendant Gerardo Hernandez  conspired with other persons to perpetrate murder, that is, the unlawful killing of human beings with malice aforethought and premeditated intent in the special maritime and territorial  jurisdiction of the United States.
…Count 3 charges defendant Gerardo Hernandez.
Title 18, United States Code, Section 1117 makes it a separate federal crime or offense for anyone to conspire or agree with someone else to do something, which if actually carried out, would amount to a violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1111.  So, under this law, a conspiracy is an agreement or kind of partnership in criminal purposes in which each member becomes the agent or partner of every other member.
In order to establish a conspiracy offense, it is not necessary for the government to prove that all of the people named in the indictment were members of the scheme, or that those who were members had entered into any formal type of agreement, or that the members had planned together all of the details of the scheme or the overt acts that the indictment charges would be carried out in an effort to commit the intended crime.
Also because the essence of a conspiracy offense is the making of the agreement itself, followed by the commission  of any overt act, it is not necessary for the government to prove that the conspirators actually succeeded in accomplishing their unlawful plan.
What the evidence in the case must show beyond a reasonable doubt is:
First.  That two or more persons in some way or manner came to a mutual understanding to try to accomplish a common and unlawful plan as charged in the indictment.
Second.  That the defendant, knowing the unlawful purpose of the plan, willfully joined in it.
Third.  That one of the conspirators during the existence of the conspiracy knowingly committed at least one of  the methods or overt acts described in the indictment.
Fourth.  That such overt act was knowingly committed  at or the time alleged in an effort to carry out or accomplish some object of the conspiracy.
An overt act is any transaction or event, even one which may be entirely innocent when considered alone, but which is knowingly committed by a conspirator in an effort to accomplish some object of the conspiracy.
A person may become a member of a conspiracy without  knowing all of the details of the unlawful scheme and without knowing who all of the other members are.  So, if a defendant has a general understanding of the unlawful purpose of the plan and knowingly and willfully joins in that plan on one occasion, that is sufficient to convict that defendant for conspiracy even though the defendant did not participate before and even though the defendant played only a minor part.
Of course, mere presence at the scene of a transaction or event or the mere fact that certain persons may have associated with each other and may have assembled together and discussed common aims and interests, does not necessarily establish proof of a conspiracy.  Also, a person who has no knowledge of a conspiracy but who happens to act in a way which  advances some purpose of one, does not thereby become a conspirator.
Title 18 United States Code, Section 1111 makes it a federal crime or offense for anyone to murder another human  being within the special maritime or territorial jurisdiction of the United States.  A defendant can be found guilty of that offense only if all of the following facts are proved beyond a reasonable doubt.
First.  That the victims named in the indictment are  dead.
Second.  That the defendant caused the death of the  victims with malice aforethought.
Third.  That the defendant did so with premeditated  intent.
Fourth.  That the killing occurred within the special maritime or territorial jurisdiction of the United States.
The special maritime or territorial jurisdiction of  the United States includes an aircraft belonging in whole or in part to the United States or to any citizen thereof, or to any corporation created by or under the laws of the United States or any state, while such aircraft is in flight over the high   seas.  The high seas include all waters beyond the territorial  seas, twelve nautical miles of the United States and beyond the territorial seas, twelve nautical miles of the Republic of Cuba.
To kill with malice aforethought means to kill another person deliberately and intentionally; but the government need  not prove that a defendant hated the person killed or felt ill will toward the victim at the time.
 Killing with premeditated intent is required in addition to proof of malice aforethought in order to establish  the offense of first degree murder.  Premeditation is typically  associated with killing in cold blood and requires a period of  time in which the accused deliberates or thinks the matter over  before acting.
 The law does not specify or require any exact period of time that must pass between the formation of the intent to kill and the killing itself.  It must be long enough for the killer after forming the intent to kill, to be fully conscious of the intent.
 You are instructed that the location of the alleged murder, as described in the indictment, if you find beyond a reasonable doubt that such offense occurred there, would be  within the special maritime or territorial jurisdiction of the United States.

Why update instead of reform the Cuban economy?

December 30, 2010

Economist Hugo Pons sees the recently begun transformation of the Cuban economy as a process of continuity and discontinuity that has brought us to where we are now.
By José Alejandro Rodríguez – juventudrebelde
“We are producing a bonsai in this small island,” economist Hugo Pons tells me when I try to understand the movement that has begun in the Cuban economy. The surprising reply, with its attached symbolism, takes us into a colloquial labyrinth.
Who is talking and musing? The professor who heads the economics department of the University of Havana? The researcher? Or the specialist in the consultancy group CANEC? Perhaps the vice president of the National Association of Economists and Accountants of Cuba? All of them together in one unhurried person, partial to conceptual thinking.
Hugo explains the metaphor: “A bonsai is seemingly poor and insignificant because of its small size, but it has an attractive uniqueness; a very strong individuality. We are in a unique process that arises from our origins and destiny; from the culture, history and identity of this country.”
This inquisitive interviewer plays along with the allegorical style of the interviewee, and wonders whether we didn’t spend a long time grafting the Siberian birch and spruce trees to the “trunk” of the Cuban economy before we considered updating it.
But Hugo surprises me again with his dialectic vision of the road traveled for more than 50 years. “I see it as a permanent process of continuity and discontinuity. We have been growing the bonsai as a unique species since 1959, a truly revitalizing experiment that, setback after setback, advances and retreats included, always produced a strange little tree in the forest of the global economy.
“Looking back, but without censure or rancor over the ups and downs of the Cuban economy, they appear as stages or moments in the long history of the discontinuity and continuity we have gone through. The bonsai is created by meticulously cutting and pruning the branches and roots that limit its development. Many roots and branches, due to circumstances, have been cut out in successive processes of change.”
– When you look back, don’t you think we delayed too long in making these changes?
– You can only say that this or that could have been done if we succeeded in doing it later. When I look back, I try to see what has been achieved; likewise, when I look ahead, I see the things that need to be done. When you look back, you realize that this country has been caught in a crossfire three times and in need of restructuring the foundation of its economy and production. In the early 1960s, after the falling out with the United States, we had to reorient ourselves toward the resources of the European socialist camp and its particular scientific and technological sphere. In 1972, when we joined the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON), we institutionalized our economic relations with that system. With the collapse of real socialism came the great loneliness of the bonsai and we were now alone in contending with our virtues, our defects and ourselves.
– There are those of would prefer to forget those harsh years of the Special Period.
– I think that the Special Period will always be remembered not only for the harm it caused but also as a critical event that brought us to where we are. It needs to be scientifically studied as well as remembered so that it does not happen again. One of its most serious effects was the deterioration of institutions, the destruction of ties among the leadership bodies, including the Ministry of Economy and Planning and businesses. There was a certain urgency to preserve the business system, strengthening centralization. This was not always a mistake, but a necessity. The problem occurs when it spreads beyond the boundaries of historical necessity.

You see, for me the Special Period was a demonstration of the immense capacity we had for surviving together the many challenges in spite of the price everyone had to pay. It was also part of the long process of discontinuity and continuity.
– By the way, you mentioned the process of rectification of errors and negative tendencies in the late 1980s as a special moment in the evolution of the bonsai. Although it may seem like speculation, where do you think we would be had it not been for the collapse of European socialism?
– The process of rectification of errors and negative tendencies set a pattern because it identified aspects of economy policy and its tools that did not fit our character and identity and the possibilities of developing our bonsai. It clarified many errors. It allowed us to consider many motivating factors in the productive process relating to the utilization of labor and labor’s active participation. It stimulated the linkage of wages and results; it criticized weaknesses in the investment process; and in general, condemned any tendency to copy from other realities. Where would we have gotten? We would have come much closer to the reality that we are now proposing. I think that at least we would have come close to an ideal formula for the redistribution of wealth.
– Do you find some connection between the process of rectification of errors and the modernization of the economic model that has failed in Cuba?
– One has tried transformation to preserve socialism as much as the other, but in very different historical contexts.
– Why has European socialism been unable to resolve its own contradictions?
– I always think about what motivated that process. The essence of the problem is that they did not know how to interpret the interests of the society they were building. They did not get to the roots, to the essence of the cultural and historical uniqueness.

Attachment to the power of the USSR caused considerable damage as well as not having a realistic understanding of the USSR’s ability as a power to compete with capitalism. Denying the realities of capitalism and hiding the advances of science, technology and culture in other realities was also really damaging.
– Why is it, do you think, that the process Cuba is now undertaking is presented as updating the economic model and not as a reform?
– First, I suggest that you ponder the timeliness of this reflection of Marti: “Only that which is genuine is fruitful. Only the direct is powerful. Whatever comes from others is like a warmed over delicacy. It is up to each person to reconstruct their own lives; once you look within yourself, you reconstruct your life.”

Furthermore, we acknowledged the exhaustion of the imitative model in the late 1980s through the process of rectification of errors. We are now in a process of change, but it can never be identified with the reforms of others because it will be done without undermining the basis of socialism and its ideology, without modifying the preponderant relations of production.
– Doesn’t the process of updating the economic model assume that what we think will be needed tomorrow will later be inoperable? Doesn’t this imply the need for permanent revision?
– Nothing is more like the work of doctor than the process of managing the economy. The economy is the patient. When economists analyze a situation, they work out a diagnosis, and based on the diagnosis they must issue a set of professional orders; the prescription. Then what happens in the behavior of the patient — which is the economy — must be monitored.

In practical terms, there are no watertight compartments in the economy. The solution to today’s problems does not have to be the same one tomorrow. I am always going to manage, correct and take action.
– How can this be applied to our socialism?
– There is an aspirational side to our socialism because this system is the only one that is built on will and conscience. It requires planning. Strategy is what you wish to attain in the long term; policy is the set of actions taken to resolve problems in carrying out that strategy. The management model is the mechanism you use to back up the policies that make the strategy work. This interaction must be organic and coherent, but at the same time progressive. Except for Marxists, we know that there never are definitive solutions.
– Some think they see a before and after in the Guidelines of the Party Congress and in the latest speech by Raúl in the National Assembly of Peoples Power.
– I think we are seeing a period of renewed confidence in the Revolution due to the precision with which problems are being identified and addressed and because that identification comes from popular opinion; from the needs and goals of the majority; from the dialectical and flexible manner that characterizes this process without having to abandon essential principals.
For me the WHAT in the Guidelines is the strategic transformation that we need. The HOW are the instruments to update our economic model. The WHEN is the time line by which we go about defining our gains. The WHO is the most important: the people, our people who will always be the guarantee.
That ability to identify, analyze and develop will be the guarantee to the extent that the construction of socialism responds to the majority of the population. Socialism is built upon will and that will has to be educated, developed and preserved. That is the only way to keep the bonsai alive and healthy.

Obama’s Cuba Policy

December 29, 2010

by Keith Bolender
The historic election of Barak Obama brought with it high expectations for a new direction in American foreign policy towards Cuba.  Unfortunately, hope has turned into disappointment halfway through his first term: the President continues to miss opportunities to alter the dynamics of the consistently contentious US-Cuba relationship.
While the recent discharge of political prisoners and the announcement of major economic reforms in Cuba produced considerable international reaction, the events elicited no serious response from the White House.  Obama’s only comment was brief, telling a group of Hispanic media that he would take a “wait and see” attitude.1  The possibility of moving towards an increased level of risk-free engagement with Cuba was lost, according to experts.2
The President’s lack of initiative is surprising considering his sparse yet revealing record on Cuba.  During the Democratic candidates’ debate in February 2008, Obama was asked if he would meet with Raúl Castro.  He answered, “We now have an opportunity to potentially change the relationship between the United States and Cuba after over half a century.  I would meet without preconditions, although . . . there has to be preparation.”3  Back in 2003 Obama was unambiguous about US-Cuba relations: “I support the eventual normalization.  And it’s absolutely true that I think our policy has been a failure.”4
Obama’s comments led many to believe there would be a fresh strategy from the new administration — where engagement might finally take precedence over confrontation.  There was even an anticipation that Obama would be the one to finally end the policy objective relentlessly pursued by the previous ten presidents: that of changing Cuba’s socioeconomic system, through the use of political hostility, military aggression, state-sponsored terrorism, international isolation, and the imposition of a devastating economic siege.
Admittedly, there has been some adjustment to Cuban policy under President Obama.  The most significant was to allow Cuban-Americans to travel to their former homeland without restrictions, a major tactical reversal from previous administrations.
During Bill Clinton’s presidency, Cuban-Americans could return once a year and the rules for sending remittances were fairly flexible.  Bush Jr. tightened those regulations as a political favor to the hard-right elements in Miami — restricting visits to once every three years and imposing limitations on the amount of remittances they could send.  Obama did away with all that, and now every month thousands arrive to the island, spend as much money as they want, and stay as long as they want.
Other positive signs that things were different under Obama came when US officials engaged Cuban authorities on bilateral matters such as migration and direct mail service.  The President also indicated support for increased academic interactions, as well as making it easier for Cuban musicians and other artists to perform in the United States.  Plans to further ease travel restrictions through increased people-to-people contacts are a continued consideration.
In the arena of direct diplomacy, the Obama administration has sought to end the conditions that limit American diplomats to Havana and their Cuban counterparts to the Washington, D.C. area.  The politically provocative electronic signboard that the Bush Jr. administration had installed on the façade of the US Interests Section in Havana was turned off a year ago.
While these steps, taken together, are not unimportant, many complain that the basic attitude towards Cuba has not been altered.
Cuban expert Wayne Smith, a former head of the American Interests Section in Havana, commented: “We’d hoped for a new approach.  We haven’t got it.  Obama lifted restrictions on Cuban-American travel and remittances and has allowed a few more Cuban officials and cultural figures to come to the United States, but that is about it.  The same attitudes that drove the Bush administration regarding Cuba seem to be present in Obama.”5
Smith’s displeasure stems from the realization that Obama’s fundamental position towards Cuba is the continuation of a strategy that has been in place for the past 50 years.  While Obama acknowledges that it has been a failure, he has done little to adjust its basic structure.
In fact, Obama has on a number of occasions expressed support for that same failed policy — based on stipulating change in Cuba’s internal conditions before any easing of the embargo or hope for normalization.  The US demands on Cuba are consistently framed by calls for improved human rights, a return to ‘democracy’ as defined by the United States, and increased individual freedoms.  The same demands the past ten presidents have made, all to the same effect.
Cuba’s response towards Obama’s call for internal change is consistent: no country should dictate to another how to run things, and it is the American side that must take the first steps to alter the relationship.  This was made clear on April 30, 2009 when Raúl Castro declared at the Non-Aligned Movement forum in Havana: “Cuba will not make ‘gestures’ to the United States, because Cuba is not the aggressor.  It is not Cuba that has pursued the [irresponsible] financial transactions carried out by North American banks; it is not Cuba that has a military presence in the United States against the will of the citizens of the country . . . therefore, it is not Cuba that has to make goodwill gestures.”6
While the White House indicated no intention to modify the central tenets of Cuban policy, the previous few months saw an impetus for action from the halls of Congress.
Over the summer both the House and the Senate were moving legislation which would have ended travel restrictions to Cuba for all Americans.  Unfortunately, nothing came out of either chamber before the November mid-term elections, and with the Republicans taking control of the House in January, the likelihood for its passage has become much lower.  Extreme pro-embargo proponent Ileana Ros-Lehtinen will become head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and the Cuban-American Representative from Florida has made it clear she will continue to oppose any engagement.
Regardless of which party sits in the White House or controls Congress, a number of issues would have to be resolved prior to any progress towards normalization.
One of the most egregious for the Cubans is the listing of Cuba on the State Department’s list of countries that sponsor terrorism since 1982.  The listing is particularly galling to the Cuban government given a long history of terrorist acts that have been committed against its citizens, the majority of them originating from anti-revolutionary groups that continue to operate with impunity inside the United Sates.  That history includes the destruction of the Cubana Airlines flight in 1976, killing 73 people.  The two recognized masterminds of the bombing, Luis Posada Carriles and Orlando Bosch, continue to live unfettered in Miami.
Other acts of terrorism against Cuba include the murder of more than a dozen teachers during the Literacy Campaign in the early 1960s, attacks on defenseless villages, biological terrorism including the introduction of Dengue 2 that killed more than 100 children, the sabotage of munitions ship La Coubre, local fishermen captured, tortured, and killed, and a psychological war called Operation Peter Pan that led 14,000 Cuban parents to send their children out of country on their own.  A 1997 bombing campaign against hotels and tourist facilities injured dozens and killed an Italian tourist.7
Connected to the terrorist issue is the matter of the Cuban Five, sent to infiltrate anti-revolutionary organizations in Florida in the 1990s, revealed and arrested by US authorities, and now serving long sentences in prison under the charge of conspiracy to commit espionage and being unregistered foreign agents.  The Cuban government maintains the release of the Five as a high priority. 
The US government, for its part, is also dealing with demands to free one of its citizens, Alan P. Gross, a veteran development consultant connected with USAID, detained by Cuban authorities since December 2009.  Gross stands accused of conducting an espionage operation based on the illegal distribution of high-tech satellite phones.
President Obama has much on his plate these days, and his workload will increase once the new Congress is sworn in.  Cuba is not high on his radar and would afford him little, if any, short-term political gain if he wanted to change tack.  While he won his presidency without the need to take Florida or the Cuban-American vote, there is another presidential race in two years, and the swing state remains vital for both parties.
Obama is simply the latest politician to succumb to the schizophrenic polemics over revolutionary Cuba.  While outside the White House, the issue was framed through the lens of foreign policy; once inside, the overriding consideration has turned to national politics.
Which leaves the prospect for change as elusive as ever, all the more disappointing as many had hoped the new President would make good on his pledge for a “new beginning,”8 to finally bring a measure of rationality between the island of 11 million and its powerful neighbor to the north.

1  “Obama Awaits ‘Full Results’ of Cuba’s Vow for Change,” AFP, October 19, 2010.
2  Anya Landau French, “Stiffing Havana,” Foreign Policy, November 16, 2010.
3  Katya Rodriguez, “Cuba-U.S. Rhetoric Timeline: Hope for a Basic Shift in Policy Disintegrates in Continued Polarization,” Council on Hemispheric Affairs, March 17, 2010.
4  ibid
5  Laura Carlsen, “CIP Analysts Look at Obama’s First Year,” CIP Americas, January 27, 2010.
6  Rodriguez, op. cit.
7  Posada Carriles admitted in a New York Times article of his involvement in the bombing campaign. Ann Louise Bardach and Larry Rohter, “Key Cuba Foe Claims Exile’s Backing,” New York Times, July 12, 1998, p. 10.  He later recanted his admission.
8  Jeff Franks, “No Bloom Yet in U.S.-Cuba Ties after April Overtures,” Reuters, May 17, 2009.
Keith Bolender is author of Voices from the Other Side: An Oral History of Terrorism against Cuba (Pluto Press, London 2010), distributed in the United States by Palgrave/Macmillan.

UNSPINNING MH’s horrendous distortion of Gerardo

December 29, 2010

The Miami Herald and related media are putting out a seriously misleading story in relation to Gerardo Hernandez’ new appeal: A banner headline
UNSPINNING MH’s horrendous distortion of Gerardo

Dec. 26 read:
“In about-face, Cuban spy says planes were shot down over international waters”
Since many people will be shocked and confused by this assertion,even if they
are able to discount the MH spin on what this means (their repeated assertions
that this puts Gerardo at odds with the Cuban government on this matter), it is
important to set the record straight.
This is the spin that the MH is putting on a new appeal for Gerardo, in which
his defense attorneys say that Paul McKenna, his court appointed attorney in the
original trial of the Five, did not provide an adequate defense for Hernandez.
Please wait for further clarifications before sending out UNSPIN MH Re Gerardo
Date: Dec 28, 2010 9:30 AM
I’m still getting further clarifications from those who have access to the court transcript of the trial of the Cuban Five, so I can continue in more detail the Unspinning of the Miami Herald’s abominable hatchet-job regarding Gerardo Hernandez’ appeal.
If you haven’t already sent out what I sent before, please wait until I finish adding and correcting. If you sent it out, please add this clarification or a new corrected version when I finish. Sorry for the trouble.Thank you.
Karen Lee Wald

Cuban migration statistics in context

December 29, 2010

Posted by: Simon McGuinness
In the year to April 2009, 38,954 people of Cuban extraction were granted residency in the USA (source:, ). All Cubans are entitled to a social care pack when they arrive in the USA.
In the year to April 2010, 65,300 Irish people emigrated to various countries (source: Irish Times:, ). Of that number, 1,637 Irish migrated to the USA, 1,400 legally, mainly as spouses of US citizens.
Cuba has a population three times that of Ireland. This shows that economic migration from Ireland is currently running at FIVE TIMES that of Cuba.
That is a statistic that you won’t often see in the US media. – SmcG.

Cuba deserves our vote of confidence, says Spanish foreign minister in interview

December 28, 2010

Excerpts from interview with Spanish Foreign Minister Trinidad Jiménez published Sunday in the Spanish newspaper Público.
Q. Has Cuba satisfactorily kept its commitments to free the prisoners?
A. Cuba has given an extraordinarily important signal. The release of 54 political prisoners has an extraordinary relevance and I believe that we must continue to give our vote of confidence to the Cuban authorities, who said they were committed to free those persons – and have done so.
There are still about 11 persons who don’t want to be freed because they want to remain in Cuba. We are talking through the Cuban Catholic Church to enable these persons, for humanitarian reasons, to be allowed to remain in their homeland.
Q. Do you understand why some of the freed prisoners who have arrived in Spain ask that the European Union’s “common position” be left in place?
A. I want to make a difference between those who have arrived in our country and have maintained a critical attitude toward the [Spanish] government, which is a minority, and the rest. We respect everyone’s opinions. It is the governments of the European nations who have to make a political evaluation of how Cuba can be helped to advance farther in the process of reforms announced by the Cuban authorities.
We already know what the results of isolation are. We believe that, with an attitude of dialogue, there are more chances to obtain things. Also, experience tells us that, in a country, changes begin to occur from the inside, not because of external pressure.
Q. Do Raúl Castro’s latest words inspire confidence in you?
A. They must be taken very seriously. It is relevant that the leading authority has expressed the need and the urgency to make changes. Faced with that attitude, the international community should be conscious that the best we can do for the island is to support that process of reforms through dialogue and a greater opening to Cuba. The decision made by the E.U. is headed in that direction
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Tiene en agenda la visita a Washington. ¿Se entrevistará con Hillary Clinton?
Será una agenda más completa, no sólo para reunirme con la secretaria de Estado, sino con otras autoridades y con la Organización de los Estados Americanos [OEA]. Estamos pendientes de fijar una fecha que sea conveniente para las dos.
¿Va a ser más prudente en sus conversaciones?
Siempre he presumido de que hablo lo mismo en público que en privado. Hasta ahora no me he sentido con ningún problema. He tenido múltiples entrevistas en estos meses y no me he sentido incómoda a la hora de discutir los temas de interés mutuo.
¿Ha cumplido Cuba los compromisos de liberación de presos satisfactoriamente?
Cuba ha dado una señal extraordinariamente importante. La liberación de 54 presos políticos es un dato de extraordinaria relevancia y creo que hay que seguir manteniendo ese voto de confianza a las autoridades cubanas, que dijeron que se iban a comprometer a liberar a esas personas y lo han hecho. Aún quedan pendientes alrededor de 11 personas que no quieren ser liberadas porque quieren quedarse en Cuba. Nosotros estamos hablando, a través de la Iglesia católica cubana, para que a estas personas, por razones humanitarias, se les permita quedarse en su país.
¿Entiende que algunos de los liberados que han llegado a España reclamen que no se toque la Posición Común de la UE?
Quiero diferenciar entre los que han llegado a nuestro país y que han mantenido una actitud crítica con el Gobierno, que es una minoría, y el resto. Respetamos las opiniones de todos. Somos los gobiernos de los países europeos los que tenemos que hacer la evaluación política de cómo se puede ayudar a Cuba a avanzar más en ese proceso de reformas anunciado por las autoridades cubanas. Ya sabemos cuáles son los resultados del aislamiento. Creemos que con una actitud de diálogo hay más posibilidades de conseguir cosas. Y también la experiencia nos dice que en un país los cambios se empiezan a producir desde el interior, no por la presión externa.
¿Le inspiran confianza las últimas palabras de Raúl Castro?
Se deben tomar con mucha seriedad. Es relevante que la primera autoridad haya expresado la necesidad y la urgencia de que haya cambios. Ante esa actitud, la comunidad internacional debería ser consciente de que lo mejor que podemos hacer por la isla es apoyar ese proceso de reformas a través de un diálogo y mayor apertura hacia Cuba. La decisión que ha tomado la UE va encaminada en esa dirección.

Cuba Modernizes its Economic Model

December 27, 2010

By Manuel E. Yepe
A CubaNews translation by Mary Todd. Edited by Walter Lippmann.
Cuba is experiencing important changes.  Rather than being forced, they are natural to a process that is still revolutionary. These changes are aimed at improving Cuba’s socialist economic model and adjusting it to fit present conditions.  Cuba has developed its model in the course of most of the more than 50 years since January 1, 1959, when an unprecedented stage of government for the people was begun.
That victory by the people marked the beginning of a process of changes aimed at building an independent, democratic, communitarian republic based on Cuba’s own experience—a design for creating a free nation with full social justice that is organized to defend the interests shared by the majority, to replace the old order that guaranteed control of public affairs by private capital and the power of money to govern everything.
The harassment by the United States which Cuba has had to confront in advancing with its revolutionary project has forced it to engage in tactical maneuvers, experiments and concealments that have made it difficult—sometimes impossible—to adopt the most democratic methods, which should characterize a society aimed at achieving socialism.
Imperialism’s global strategy against popular revolutions has always been to divide the people and separate them from their revolutionary leadership, forcing the revolutionary country to give priority to revolutionary power rather than give full rein to the masses’ aspirations for full democracy and creating nuclei of discontent that open areas to the enemies of the process, to those who want to undo the people’s achievements. 
The democratic essence of the Cuban revolutionary process—with all of its virtues and defects—is shown in the work of the 6th Congress of the Communist Party.  Though the Congress won’t be held until April 2011, the preparatory work for it is already under way.
As is usual in Cuba, all citizens are informed about and express their opinions on the most important public topics that the Party and Government will consider.
The Party leaders have drawn up a platform—Draft Outlines of the Economic and Social Policy—and submitted it to the people, who have studied it with care and are expressing their opinions of it in meetings.  Those opinions are being gathered together in a document that will be presented to the delegates to the Congress, so they will have the most reliable and precise information possible concerning the measures and solutions that citizens have proposed.
Cubans have vast experience in the exercise of truly participatory democracy—a fact that isn’t easy to understand in other countries.  Nor is it easy for Cubans to understand how the citizens of other nations are content with a form of democracy whose exercise is limited to voting in an election once every so many years, or choosing between one or another candidate whom they themselves hadn’t elected.
It is practically impossible for any Cuban citizen to remain outside the discussion process, unless that is what he wants.  Many take part in the various discussions to support their proposals.
Cubans clearly distinguish between the serious, honest statements made by foreign politicians and newspaper articles on aspects of the political situation in Cuba and the ones which are slanted by the libel campaign that the U.S. Government promotes and finances against Cuba.  Clearly, it is more difficult to distinguish between naivete and ill will when evaluating those articles and speeches by people who present themselves as leftists or independents when censuring Cuban policies and projects.
These attacks from progressive positions usually express oblique censure of other revolutionary processes, as well—such as those in China, Vietnam, North Korea, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia and Nicaragua—and are scornful of the contributions that the progressive leaders of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and other Latin-American countries have made to the pro-independence surge in Latin America.
It is clear that those articles and speeches, which compare the Cuban socialist project with other leftist sociopolitical processes, are aimed at promoting lack of confidence and disunity, both in Latin America and in the world as a whole.
It is difficult to understand the purposes of those who—while proclaiming themselves to be expert Marxist theorists on revolutions without ever having lived in one, and being completely ignorant about the realities and specific potentials that can only be understood by experiencing them—judge and pass sentence on every action and aim of Cuba’s revolutionary leaders.
The U.S. imperialists’ worldwide campaign against Cuba claims that the island is now forced to resort to market solutions to correct its disastrous economy, but it ignores the enormous merit of that economy whatever its successes and mistakes. Always striving to meet the people’s needs has been its primary function and it has defeated the superpower’s efforts to crush it through the longest, most tenacious economic, commercial and financial blockade in the history of the world, also reinforced by tremendous diplomatic and terrorist pressures of global scope.

Cuban medics in Haiti put the world to shame

December 26, 2010

Castro’s doctors and nurses are the backbone of the fight against cholera

By Nina Lakhani, 26 December 2010 –
They are the real heroes of the Haitian earthquake disaster, the human catastrophe on America’s doorstep which Barack Obama pledged a monumental US humanitarian mission to alleviate. Except these heroes are from America’s arch-enemy Cuba, whose doctors and nurses have put US efforts to shame.
A medical brigade of 1,200 Cubans is operating all over earthquake-torn and cholera-infected Haiti, as part of Fidel Castro’s international medical mission which has won the socialist state many friends, but little international recognition.
Observers of the Haiti earthquake could be forgiven for thinking international aid agencies were alone in tackling the devastation that killed 250,000 people and left nearly 1.5 million homeless. In fact, Cuban healthcare workers have been in Haiti since 1998, so when the earthquake struck the 350-strong team jumped into action. And amid the fanfare and publicity surrounding the arrival of help from the US and the UK, hundreds more Cuban doctors, nurses and therapists arrived with barely a mention. Most countries were gone within two months, again leaving the Cubans and Médecins Sans Frontières as the principal healthcare providers for the impoverished Caribbean island.
Figures released last week show that Cuban medical personnel, working in 40 centres across Haiti, have treated more than 30,000 cholera patients since October. They are the largest foreign contingent, treating around 40 per cent of all cholera patients. Another batch of medics from the Cuban Henry Reeve Brigade, a disaster and emergency specialist team, arrived recently as it became clear that Haiti was struggling to cope with the epidemic that has already killed hundreds.
Since 1998, Cuba has trained 550 Haitian doctors for free at the Escuela Latinoamericana de Medicina en Cuba (Elam), one of the country’s most radical medical ventures. Another 400 are currently being trained at the school, which offers free education – including free books and a little spending money – to anyone sufficiently qualified who cannot afford to study medicine in their own country.
John Kirk is a professor of Latin American studies at Dalhousie University in Canada who researches Cuba’s international medical teams. He said: “Cuba’s contribution in Haiti is like the world’s greatest secret. They are barely mentioned, even though they are doing much of the heavy lifting.”
This tradition can be traced back to 1960, when Cuba sent a handful of doctors to Chile, hit by a powerful earthquake, followed by a team of 50 to Algeria in 1963. This was four years after the revolution, which saw nearly half the country’s 7,000 doctors voting with their feet and leaving for the US.
The travelling doctors have served as an extremely useful arm of the government’s foreign and economic policy, winning them friends and favours across the globe. The best-known programme is Operation Miracle, which began with ophthalmologists treating cataract sufferers in impoverished Venezuelan villages in exchange for oil. This initiative has restored the eyesight of 1.8 million people in 35 countries, including that of Mario Teran, the Bolivian sergeant who killed Che Guevara in 1967.
The Henry Reeve Brigade, rebuffed by the Americans after Hurricane Katrina, was the first team to arrive in Pakistan after the 2005 earthquake, and the last to leave six months later.
Cuba’s constitution lays out an obligation to help the worst-off countries when possible, but international solidarity isn’t the only reason, according to Professor Kirk. “It allows Cuban doctors, who are frightfully underpaid, to earn extra money abroad and learn about diseases and conditions they have only read about. It is also an obsession of Fidel’s and it wins him votes in the UN.”
A third of Cuba’s 75,000 doctors, along with 10,000 other health workers, are currently working in 77 poor countries, including El Salvador, Mali and East Timor. This still leaves one doctor for every 220 people at home, one of the highest ratios in the world, compared with one for every 370 in England.
Wherever they are invited, Cubans implement their prevention-focused holistic model, visiting families at home, proactively monitoring maternal and child health. This has produced “stunning results” in parts of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, lowering infant and maternal mortality rates, reducing infectious diseases and leaving behind better trained local health workers, according to Professor Kirk’s research.
Medical training in Cuba lasts six years – a year longer than in the UK – after which every graduate works as a family doctor for three years minimum. Working alongside a nurse, the family doctor looks after 150 to 200 families in the community in which they live.
This model has helped Cuba to achieve some of the world’s most enviable health improvements, despite spending only $400 (£260) per person last year compared with $3,000 (£1,950) in the UK and $7,500 (£4,900) in the US, according to Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development figures.
Infant mortality rates, one of the most reliable measures of a nation’s healthcare, are 4.8 per 1,000 live births – comparable with Britain and lower than the US. Only 5 per cent of babies are born with a low birth weight, a crucial factor in long-term health, and maternal mortality is the lowest in Latin America, World Health Organisation figures show. Cuba’s polyclinics, open 24 hours a day for emergencies and specialist care, are a step up from the family doctors. Each provides for 15,000 to 35,000 patients via a group of full-time consultants as well as visiting doctors, ensuring that most medical care is provided in the community.
Imti Choonara, a paediatrician from Derby, leads a delegation of international health professionals at annual workshops in Cuba’s third city, Camaguey. “Healthcare in Cuba is phenomenal, and the key is the family doctor, who is much more proactive, and whose focus is on prevention … The irony is that Cubans came to the UK after the revolution to see how the NHS worked. They took back what they saw, refined it and developed it further; meanwhile we are moving towards the US model,” Professor Choonara said.
Politics, inevitably, penetrates many aspects of Cuban healthcare. Every year hospitals produce a list of drugs and equipment they have been unable to access because of the American embargo which prevents many US companies from trading with Cuba, and persuades other countries to follow suit. The 2009/10 report includes drugs for childhood cancers, HIV and arthritis, some anaesthetics, as well as chemicals needed to diagnose infections and store organs. Pharmacies in Cuba are characterised by long queues and sparsely stacked shelves, though in part this is because they stock only generic brands.
Antonio Fernandez, from the Ministry of Public Health, said: “We make 80 per cent of the drugs we use. The rest we import from China, former Soviet countries, Europe – anyone who will sell to us – but this makes it very expensive because of the distances.”
On the whole, Cubans are immensely proud and supportive of their contribution in Haiti and other poor countries, delighted to be punching above their weight on the international scene. However, some people complain of longer waits to see their doctor because so many are working abroad. And, like all commodities in Cuba, medicines are available on the black market for those willing to risk large fines if caught buying or selling.
International travel is beyond the reach of most Cubans, but qualified nurses and doctors are among those forbidden from leaving the country for five years after graduation, unless as part of an official medical team.
Like everyone else, health professionals earn paltry salaries of around $20 (£13) a month. So, contrary to official accounts, bribery exists in the hospital system, which means some doctors, and even hospitals, are off-limits unless patients can offer a little something, maybe lunch or a few pesos, for preferential treatment.
Cuba’s international ventures in healthcare are becoming increasingly strategic. Last month, officials held talks with Brazil about developing Haiti’s public health system, which Brazil and Venezuela have both agreed to help finance.
Medical training is another example. There are currently 8,281 students from more than 30 countries enrolled at Elam, which last month celebrated its 11th anniversary. The government hopes to inculcate a sense of social responsibly into the students in the hope that they will work within their own poor communities for at least five years.
Damien Joel Suarez, 27, a second year from New Jersey, is one of 171 American students; 47 have already graduated. He dismisses allegations that Elam is part of the Cuban propaganda machine. “Of course, Che is a hero here but he isn’t forced down your neck.”
Another 49,000 students are enrolled in the El Nuevo Programa de Formacion de Medicos Latinoamericanos, the brainchild of Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez, who pledged in 2005 to train 100,000 doctors for the continent. The course is much more hands-on, and critics question the quality of the training.
Professor Kirk disagrees: “The hi-tech approach to health needed in London and Toronto is irrelevant for millions of people in the Third World who are living in poverty. It is easy to stand on the sidelines and criticise the quality, but if you were living somewhere with no doctors, then you’d be happy to get anyone.”
There are nine million Haitians who would probably agree.

Cuba Grateful for International Solidarity

December 26, 2010

The Cuban Institute for Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP) thanked many nations of the world for their longstanding and consistent solidarity and support.
 On behalf of the organization, its vice president, Enrique Roman, expressed the gratitude of all those friends who have backed the 50 years of work of that institution.
“Without the help of all our friends, it would have been impossible to fight to end to the economic, commercial and financial blockade the United States has imposed on Cuba for more than 50 years,” he said.
“Cuba’s circle of friends, comprised of the diplomatic corps accredited in Havana, representatives of political parties, organizations and foreign students, also contribute to our fight to free the five Cuban antiterrorists imprisoned in the United States since 1998,” he said.
The 50th anniversary of ICAP is a collection of all the actions that have been carried out seeking closer ties among the peoples of the world and the desire for values such as justice and equality to prevail in the international order, Roman said.

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